Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





David Troyansky

Subject Categories

European History | History | Religion


Catholic; Imperialism; Martyr; Martyrdom; Napoleon III; Second Empire


This dissertation examines the lives and political significance of five French Catholic priests who were murdered between 1848 and 1871. Using French newspapers, printed religious texts and pamphlets, hagiographic biographies and other sources, I show the many ways in which French priests were wittingly and unwittingly used by the French Second Republic (1848-52), Second Empire (1852-70) and the Paris Commune (1871) and Third Republic (1870-1940). Archbishop of Paris Denis Auguste Affre (1848), Saint Augustin Schoeffler (1851), Archbishop of Paris Marie-Dominique-Auguste Sibour (1857), Saint Théophane Vénard (1861), and Archbishop of Paris Georges Darboy (1871) were all killed more for their relationship to the French state than for their religious beliefs. In mid-nineteenth-century France, martyrdom served as a powerful cultural symbol demarcating good and evil and identifying appropriate targets for violence. Despite the ultimately secular causes of their deaths, all of the murdered priests discussed (except Sibour) were called martyrs by those who found them inspiring, motivating and useful and were subsequently used as pretexts for asymmetrical violence visited upon those held accountable for their murder, only contributing to their reputation as members of an imperial priesthood. I show how a series of political decisions made in the 1850s by French Catholics allied with the archbishops of Paris increasingly tied institutional French Catholicism to the government of the Second Empire for its survival. But by tying themselves ever closer to the empire, the archbishops of Paris became vulnerable to changing attitudes towards the empire itself. When the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1) swept the empire away the government that followed (ultimately as the Third Republic) seemed ready to scapegoat Paris for all French woes. In desperation, members of the Paris Commune (1871) expressed their frustration at the previous decades with the demolition of imperial symbols, including the imperial priesthood itself.